Yesterday we covered the hardware I chose for building my HTPC, which I’m using solely for watching and streaming video content from sources that are online as well as on my local network. After I got the hardware all put together I started to dive into the software, and I made some notes that may help anyone else who is trying to optimize the performance of their XBMC computer.

I should point out that the settings I’m going to cover are geared towards my particular hardware, but a lot of it is also independent of the hardware being used. This is also written assuming you generally know your way around Windows.

Update Settings in the BIOS:

When your machine is booting up press the appropriate key on the keyboard so that you will pull up your BIOS settings. Make the following changes:

  1. Set the SATA Mode to AHCI
    Go to Advanced -> Storage Configuration -> SATA Mode and change the setting from IDE to AHCI. This will improve the performance of your SSD. Note that you must change this setting before installing Windows.
  2. Max Out the Integrated Video Graphics
    To get the best video performance from XBMC you’ll want to ensure the video graphics are allowed to use as much memory as possible. In the case of my motherboard, the graphics are integrated and you’ll want to bump up the memory available (which pulls from the available RAM) in the BIOS. Go to Advanced -> North Bridge Configuration -> Share Memory and set it to the max which should be 512MB.

Install Windows 7 64-bit

I recommend using the 64-bit version of Windows 7. The problem is that you may not have a way to install the OS since it typically comes on a disk, but Microsoft puts out a tool that you can use to create a bootable Windows 7 installation using a USB drive. I highly recommend using this method unless you have a DVD drive on your system already.

Post-Windows Installation Steps for Optimal Performance

These are a few tips I recommend doing after you’ve completed the fresh install of Windows 7:

  1. Install Drivers from Manufacturer Site
    Make sure you grab the appropriate drivers from the manufacturer of the actual component you’re trying to configure. For example, the motherboard manufacturer may have drivers for the network card, but I recommend trying to get more up-to-date drivers directly from the manufacturer of the network card.
  2. Install All Windows Updates
  3. Install Google Chrome and Make Incognito Mode Default
    If you right-click on the Google Chrome shortcut you can add “ –incognito” onto the end of the shortcut link. That means it will startup in the Incognito mode every time you start the browser. This is beneficial because you don’t need to worry about browser caches using up disk space. Of course this may not be desirable if you plan on using this as your day-to-day machine.
  4. Disable Unnecessary Services
    I try to trim down the services to make sure almost all of the CPU will always be available to XBMC. These are the services that I normally disable:
    1. Disk Defragmenter
    2. SuperFetch
    3. Windows Defender (this, of course, has security implications by turning this off)
    4. Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service
    5. Windows Search
  5. Disable Unnecessary Visual Effects
    Go to the Control Panel -> System -> Performance Options -> Visual Effects, and choose the Adjust for best performance option.
  6. Disable Hibernation
    To save disk space you can turn off the hibernation feature if you don’t plan on using it. This can quickly be done by opening an elevated command prompt (Right-click on the CMD shortcut) and type powercfg -h off
  7. Set Up Automatic Login
    You can follow this guide we previously wrote outlining how to configure Windows to automatically login to your machine without using any third-party software.

Basic XBMC Setup

In some upcoming articles we are going to go through some of the XBMC customization and configuration options, but these are a couple of basic things we wanted to cover in here:

  1. Install the latest version of XBMC
  2. Copy Over Existing Configuration Files (if applicable)
    If you’ve already installed and configured XBMC on a similar machine you can copy over the configuration files to prevent having to reconfigure everything:
    1. Copy the %appdata%\XBMC\userdata over from another install
    2. Copy the %appdata%\XBMC\addons over from another install
  3. Set XBMC to Start at Boot
    Copy the XBMC shortcut to the Startup folder so that it will automatically start with Windows.
  4. Share the XBMC Profile Folder
    Share the %appdata%\XBMC in Windows so that you can quickly access the profile folder from another computer on your network. This will make future configuration changes from a remote machine a lot easier.

CyberNet’s XBMC Guides: